During my time in London and traveling to other cities in the UK and Europe, I’ve had countless opportunities to visit museums, art galleries, palaces, and exhibits. I’ve seen everything from dinosaur bones to ancient Roman ruins to the crown jewels to Harry Potter movie props. In this post, I will be ranking all of the exhibits I have visited (if I can remember them all)! Hopefully this will give you some ideas if you are a student planning to study abroad in the future.
Keep in mind some are more fresh in my memory than others, and I am probably going to change my mind about the order a few more times. (Edit: While doing this ranking and writing the captions, I have changed my order already about five times).
21. Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze
This was a surprisingly small gallery in Florence. It is famous for having Michelangelo’s David on display; however, once you’ve seen David, there’s not much else to see. Coming from London where most of the museums are free, I was a little disappointed at how much this museum charged to see basically just this one statue.
20. National Gallery of Ireland
This was a cute gallery but didn’t have an outstanding collection. However, I do enjoy a small gallery. It wasn’t as overwhelming as some of the bigger art museums I visited in Europe. I was only here for about 20 minutes.
19. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
I think this was the first art gallery I went to once I was abroad. It’s in Glasgow, Scotland. The outside is gorgeous. Inside, there’s not too much that’s super memorable. Here’s a picture of some faces that were hanging from the ceiling. The main entrance area reminded me of the Natural History Museum in London.
18. Beatles Museum
This was in Liverpool and I went with my parents. My dad is a huge Beatles fan so he brought us to the Beatles Museum. I like their music but didn’t know much about their lives and careers. It was cool to learn some of that here, though it was an overwhelming amount of new information to take in.
This art gallery in Florence is mainly so low on my list because I had the worst time getting both in and out of the museum. It is notoriously difficult to find the entrance and exit, and I know other people who’ve gone before me who said the same thing. I spent an hour trying to enter, but once I was inside, it was a great little gallery! The most famous painting in this gallery is the Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
16. Trinity College Library
This was a little exhibit my friends and I went to at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. It’s basically just one room – an enormous library room full of beautiful wooden shelves and marble busts. I love a good library.
15. Tate Modern
I’m not the biggest fan of modern art, but there were some pretty interesting things to see in this gallery. I like how modern art often means something, even if it’s personal to the artist. Lots of the pieces in here are a critique of the modern world and current events. My favorite part was a room with lots of objects that had been pulled out of the Thames, from glass bottles to fishing hooks to plastic bottle caps to children’s toys. You could open all these drawers and there would be endless objects pulled from the river, which I thought told an important message on environmentalism and consumerism.
The Louvre in Paris is famous for having the Mona Lisa on display. However, it is also extremely crowded inside which is why I’m unfortunately putting it so low on my list (even though it has a great collection). My favorite things to see here were the statues, including Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo. There’s also a Sculpture Garden here which was a life saver – it wasn’t crowded when I went in, and I took a short break here to get some air.
13. Museo Nacional del Prado
This is a great art gallery in Madrid, Spain. I took an art history class at Chapman last year where I learned about a lot of the artists whose work is in this museum, so this was one of the things I really wanted to do in Spain. It has works by Goya, Velázquez, Rubens, etc.
12. National Gallery
I stopped in the National Gallery one day with my mom when she was in London. We only had about 45 minutes to spend here because we had tickets to a West End show that evening, so I’m hoping to go back soon and see the rest. This was a few days after protestors threw tomato soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, but thankfully it had been behind glass so the painting was safe and on display.
11. British Museum
Though it’s called the British Museum, most of the things they have on display aren’t actually from Britain. They have artifacts from all over the world. I spent hours here and still felt like I didn’t see half of the museum. This place was massive and I spent forever in the Ancient Greece and Rome exhibits. The highlights for me were sections of the Parthenon, pictured here.
10. Science Museum
I went to the Science Museum for a little bit one day with my friend Natalie. We went to see a documentary about the Hubble telescope in 3D IMAX, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. That was a pretty cool experience. There was also an exhibit I really liked that had lots of old telephones for every decade.
9. Natural History Museum
I went here with my mom, who likes science and studied biology in college. We both really wanted to see some dinosaur bones, although the famous Dippy is just a replica. Dippy is a Diplodocus whose skeleton sits in a special exhibit in the Natural History Museum. But my favorite part of this museum was actually just the architecture in this picture. (You might recognize it as where part of the movie Paddington took place).
8. Hampton Court Palace
This was a fun place to visit. Learned about British Kings and Queens who lived there, including Henry VIII and a few of his wives. Again, a beautiful royal palace. I love these kinds of places.
7. Royal Palace Madrid
Photography wasn’t allowed inside the majority of this palace but here’s one from the outside and one from the beginning of the tour. There were some incredible rooms in this palace, and I loved how detailed the wallpaper and curtains and fabrics were. It’s always amazing to see where royals have lived.
6. Tower of London
Been here three times and I always find something new to see. I visited four years ago, but during this term I went to the Tower of London on an excursion with ISA, and another time on a field trip for my London: History, Art, and Society class. Best things to see here: the Crown Jewels, graffiti on the walls of prison cells, and of course the ravens.
5. Royal Pavilion Brighton
This palace was unlike any other palace in the UK. There was so much Eastern influence in the architecture and decor – the outside is based on Indian architecture, and the interior design has a lot of Chinese influence. It gets to be so high on my list for its uniqueness as well as its beauty.
4. Victoria & Albert Museum
This is probably my favorite museum in London. I’ve been three times and still haven’t seen everything. It’s enormous. I love that there’s a tunnel from South Kensington Tube Station that takes you right into the fashion exhibit of this museum (which is one of my favorite exhibits). The cast courts are impressive as well – they are re-creations of statues and architectural features from ancient civilizations. And the other day I saw the jewelry exhibit for the first time. It’s super impressive.
3. Musée d’Orsay
Paris is famous for the Louvre, but I prefer the Musee d’Orsay. Coming from Chicago where the Art Institute has an enormous amount of work by Monet, Renoir, etc., I have always loved impressionism and post-impressionism. There’s some great work by Van Gogh and Monet here, although you really have to search for it, as it’s a bit hard to find. The architectural design of this museum is also spectacular, with the big clocks on the windows. This gallery was a lot of fun.
2. Château de Versailles
This place is absolutely beautiful. I love how detailed the French design is here – the walls, floor, furniture – everything! I spent hours looking at everything. (Not even counting the gardens – that’ll be in my next blog post). I’ll just let the photos show you why I loved Versailles.
1. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
As you may know from my bio, I am studying production design for film. Also, the eight Harry Potter movies are my comfort movies. I had to wait until I came here to make this blog post because I knew I’d want to include it. If you’re going to go here, here are some recommendations. 1 – Book a tour that includes transportation. We got picked up at King’s Cross and the bus was playing the first Harry Potter movie all the way there. 2 – The audio guide was not worth it. All of the information is on the signs and plaques around the exhibits. 3 – Going at Christmastime was worth it. The Great Hall was decked out for the Yule Ball, and the outside area had snow machines. The Hogwarts scale model was also covered in snow.
I’m probably forgetting a few, but I think this is a pretty comprehensive list of where I’ve been so far. I’ve always been a museum person, but I’ve also realized over the past few months that museums aren’t always the best way to tour a city. Sometimes you will get burnt out if you go to too many museums and palaces in such a short span of time. Sometimes they will get jumbled together in your brain so you don’t remember which museum had which piece on display. Sometimes famous places like the Louvre and British Museum can be so huge that they’re overwhelming and you spend the whole time worrying about how you’re going to possibly see everything.
You don’t need to see everything. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to leave some things unseen, so you can have something to look forward to if you want to come back someday in ten, twenty, fifty years’ time. The history will still be here – in fact, there will be more the longer you wait. You don’t have to see all the sites that everyone tells you to see – just do what makes YOU happy. Live in the moment and enjoy your time, whether that means waiting in a thirty minute queue to see the Birth of Venus, or sitting in the Starbucks in the Louvre, or looking for cats in ancient Roman ruins (more on that next post).
Thanks for reading!
Helen Neppl is a student at Chapman University and an ISA Photo Blogger. She is studying with ISA in London, UK.